Extreme Climate Events: CEEW | 12 Dec 2020

Why in News

According to a recent study on the report “Preparing India for Extreme Climate Events” released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), over 75% of districts in India are hotspots of extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, droughts, heat waves and cold waves.

  • This is the first time that extreme weather event hotspots in the country have been mapped.
    • CEEW is an independent, non-partisan, one of Asia’s leading not-for-profit policy research institutions, devoted to research on all matters affecting the use, reuse, and misuse of resources.
  • The report comes just after the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2020 which warned that the world is heading for a temperature rise of over 3 degrees Celsius this century.

Key Points

  • Major Findings:
    • The frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of extreme events have risen in recent decades.
      • While India witnessed 250 extreme climate events in 35 years between 1970 and 2005, it recorded 310 such weather events in only 15 years since then.
      • With an unusual spike in extreme events since 2005, these districts are bearing the effects of changing microclimate with loss of property, livelihoods and lives.
    • The pattern reflects the global changes:
      • Extreme weather events resulting from climate change led to 4,95,000 human deaths across the world in 1999-2018.
      • More than 12,000 extreme weather events led to losses worth USD 3.54 trillion (measured in terms of purchasing power parity or PPP) during this period.
    • The current trend of catastrophic climate events results from a mere 0.6 degrees Celsius temperature rise in the last 100 years.
      • India is already the 5th most vulnerable country globally in terms of extreme climate events, and it is all set to become the world’s flood capital.
  • Cyclones:
    • After 2005, the yearly average number of districts affected by cyclones tripled and the cyclone frequency-doubled.
    • In the past decade, 258 districts were affected by cyclones with hotspot districts all along the eastern coastline.
    • The east coast’s warming regional microclimate, land-use change, and degrading forests are triggering the region’s cyclonic activity.
  • Flood Events:
    • The decade 2000-2009 showed a spike in extreme flood events and in associated flood events, which affected almost 473 districts.
      • Events associated with floods such as landslides, heavy rainfall, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and cloudbursts increased by over 20 times.
    • The compounding effects of land subsidence, the urban heat island phenomenon, and sea-level rise due to glacial melts are leading to the intensification of cyclonic disturbances, thus increasing the number of flood events experienced during the decade and making it an outlier.
    • While the number of rainy days during monsoon has decreased, single-day extreme rainfall events are increasing, leading to flooding.
    • Six of India’s eight most flood-prone districts in the last decade, Barpeta, Darrang, Dhemaji, Goalpara, Golaghat and Sivasagar, are located in Assam.
  • Droughts:
    • The yearly average of drought-affected districts increased 13 times after 2005.
      • Until 2005, the number of districts affected by drought was six, but after 2005 this figure rose to 79.
    • While the intensity of damage in terms of loss of life has reduced significantly, droughts increase uncertainties related to agriculture and rural livelihoods.
    • Drought-affected district hotspots of India in the last decade were Ahmednagar, Aurangabad (both Maharashtra), Anantapur, Chittoor (both Andhra Pradesh), Bagalkot, Bijapur, Chikkaballapur, Gulbarga, and Hassan (all Karnataka).
  • Weakening of Monsoon:
    • The empirical evidence generated from the analysis coincides with the weakening of monsoons due to rising micro-temperatures.
      • This further can be validated by the fact that states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh saw severe water scarcity during 2015 due to record-breaking temperatures during summer and weakening monsoons.
  • Swapping of Nature of Extreme Events:
    • The study also found a shift in the pattern of extreme climate events, such as flood-prone areas becoming drought-prone and vice-versa, in over 40% of Indian districts.
    • This swapping has happened in two ways.
      • In some cases, districts which were flood-prone have now become drought-prone and vice versa.
      • While many districts are facing floods and droughts simultaneously. This trend is both unusual and alarming, and requires further investigation.
    • Coastal southern Indian states are increasingly witnessing more droughts.
    • Further, floods and droughts coincide during the same season in several districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu.
  • Suggestions:
    • Develop a Climate Risk Atlas to map critical vulnerabilities such as coasts, urban heat stress, water stress, and biodiversity collapse.
    • Develop an Integrated Emergency Surveillance System to facilitate a systematic and sustained response to emergencies.
    • Mainstream risk assessment at all levels, including localised, regional, sectoral, cross-sectoral, macro and micro-climatic level.
    • Enhance adaptive and resilience capacity to climate-proof lives, livelihoods and investments.
    • Increase the participatory engagement of all stakeholders in the risk assessment process.
    • Integrate risk assessment into local, sub-national, and national level plans.

Microclimatic zones shifting

  • Microclimatic zones, or areas where the weather is different from surrounding areas, are shifting across various districts of India.
  • A shift in microclimate zones may lead to severe disruptions across sectors.
    • Every 2 degrees Celsius rise in annual mean temperature will reduce agricultural productivity by 15-20%.
  • Some reasons identified behind this shift in microclimatic zones is change in land-use patterns, deforestation, encroachments upon mangroves, disappearing wetlands and natural ecosystems by encroachment, and urban heat islands that trap heat locally.

Source: IE